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1.Wages of neglect (The Hindu, the Indian Express) 

2.An odd leniency to minor’ sexual offences (The Hindu) 

3.From plate to plough (The Indian Express)

 

1.Wages of neglect (The Hindu, the Indian Express) 

Synoptic line: It throws light on issue of recent hospital tragedy due to negligence and how the matter is a symptom of many deeper problems. (GS paper II)

Overview

  • India’s spend on healthcare is much lower than some fellow BRICS and SAARC nations, Unless India’s public healthcare infrastructure is improved considerably, development and investment in other sectors will mean little.
  • The death of more than 60 children in the span of a few days in a major referral hospital in Uttar Pradesh has jolted the conscience of the nation. This was an entirely preventable tragedy. But what is perhaps more galling than the recent death tragedy, is that what happened in Gorakhpur was neither the first nor will it be the last.

No lesson learned

  • Since 2012, 3,000 children suffering from Japanese Encephalitis have reportedly died at the same hospital, which serves as the nodal point for all such cases in the region. This time the fatalities have attracted more attention because the state’s callousness seems to have touched a new low. According to initial reports, many of the children died because their oxygen supply was cut off as the hospital hadn’t paid its dues to the supplier, though the Uttar Pradesh government has denied these allegations and the matter is under investigation. But the matter is not merely about unpaid bills but it is a symptom of many deeper problems.
  • State government has learned no lessons that are evident from the unremitting annual peaks of disease and death in U.P. particularly in the eastern districts. According to the data Japanese encephalitis, which afflicted many of the children who died last week, has claimed more than 10,000 lives in the State between 1978, the year of the first major outbreak, and 2005. High mortality has been witnessed in subsequent years as well.
  • In the case of U.P., the epidemics have their roots in weak social determinants such as housing and sanitation, coupled with ecological changes. Encephalitis is correlated with expansion of irrigation and construction of dams four decades ago, resulting in an increase in disease-transmitting mosquitoes. Proximity to pigs and birds created viral transmission pathways.

Major problems

  • The most important among all problems is India’s abysmally low public spending on healthcare; though public spending has increased but only marginally over the past two decades from 1.1% of gross domestic product in 1995 to 1.4% in 2014. According to the World Bank, the infant mortality rate in India in 2015 was 38, that is far better than the 165 in 1960 but lagging comparable countries such as Bangladesh (31), Indonesia (23) and Sri Lanka (08). The situation in even worse in some large states such as Uttar Pradesh, where around 50 out of every 1,000 children die before they reach the age of five.
  • Another problem with India’s healthcare system is acute manpower shortage. The country has only about one doctor for every 1,700 patients whereas the World Health Organization (WHO) prescribes at least one for every 1,000 patients.
  • In other words, there is a shortage of about 500,000 doctors. The Medical Council of India (MCI) will have to reform the entire medical education system if this gap has to be filled, but in the meantime, more healthcare providers need to be brought into the system, including nurses, optometrists, anaesthetists and AYUSH (Ayurveda, yoga and naturopathy, unani, siddha and homoeopathy) workers. Nurses especially can and should be empowered so that they can take off some of the load from physicians.
  • There is a vast majority of people who do not have health insurance in a country, where the public health system has collapsed. Health shocks are one of the biggest reasons why people slip back into poverty.
  • India’s efforts to extend coverage over the past decade or so have borne few fruits, even as other countries such as Germany, Japan and Thailand have built effective healthcare systems by insisting on some form of pre-payment and pooling of resources, either through taxation or insurance. India’s inability to find a workable model for itself has left its poor particularly vulnerable.
  • Even for those who can afford better, the choices are limited. Most state-run facilities are so poorly managed that they aren’t really an option. Private facilities may offer services, but there are serious quality issues when it comes to the poor. The government has been talking about a stronger partnership with the private sector in the field of healthcare but there has been little progress on the ground.

Way ahead

  • The challenge is to make the provision of public goods a central feature of our democratic politics. There is need to learn the deeper public policy lesson from the Gorakhpur tragedy. There would be need for the Indian Council of Medical Research to launch a special commission for U.P., treating it as a public health emergency. It is also an appropriate moment for the Centre and the States to consider their poor record.

Question– What are social costs of neglect in Health care? What approach is needed in this regard?

 

2.An odd leniency to minor’ sexual offences (The Hindu)

Synoptic line: It throws light on issue of ‘minor’ sexual offences. (GS paper II)

Overview

  • Rape has become one of the most serious challenges facing by women in India, including foreign tourists. Government initiatives to ensure the safety of women, such as the National Vehicle Security and Tracking System and setting up of women’s helplines have failed to affect a measurable drop in the number of reports of rape and other sex-related crimes. Funds allocated for improving safety of women in public transport have been underutilised for years.
  • Despite rising numbers, the conversation on sexual violence in India continues to be centred on rape. There are minor sexual crimes which has victimised the large population of women in India that need to be considered.

Minor sexual offences

  • The National Crime Records Bureau data shows that there has been a rise in stalking since the provision was introduced through the Criminal Law (Amendment) Act, 2013; from 4,700 cases in 2014 to 6,227 in 2015.
  • Before the 2013 amendment came in, the law was ill-equipped to deal with the offence of ‘stalking’. The closest it came to being addressed was Section 509 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) that says “Word, gesture or act intended to insult the modesty of a woman.”
  • However the provision was inadequate in tackling the menace of stalking because one had to prove that the accused intended to ‘outrage the modesty of the woman’ through his act. Other provisions such as Section 354 “Assault or criminal force to woman with intent to outrage her modesty” necessitated the use of physical force.
  • The phrase “outraging the modesty of a woman” was not defined anywhere in the law, leaving its interpretation open-ended. Even the Information Technology Act, 2000 also lacks adequate provisions to deal with electronic stalking. Under the act, Section 66E mention that on the violation of the privacy of an individual, requires the intentional capturing, publishing or transmission of an obscene image of a person without their consent.
  • However mass outrage and public pressure after the Nirbhaya gang rape in Delhi (2012) has compelled the government to recognise the varied dimensions of sexual violence against women, Apart from expanding the scope of rape and penalising voyeurism and eve-teasing, the 2013 Amendment also defined and recognised stalking as a standalone offence.
  • While sexual violence of varying degrees and forms is a routine affair for women in India, it is the “grave” forms of sexual violence primarily, such as rape that dominate our everyday understanding of the issue. Other “minor” forms such as “stalking” and “eve-teasing” are not only normalised but are often romanticised and encouraged, especially in popular culture such as Indian cinema. In 2015, a court in Australia acquitted an Indian man accused of stalking two women on the ground that Bollywood had influenced him and thus such behaviour was normal for Indian men.
  • The perception that violence against women must necessarily involve some form of bodily harm does not only inform societal attitudes but also the law. The fact that it took a heinous incident of rape for stalking, eve-teasing and voyeurism to be recognised as offences demonstrates the myopic lens through which sexual violence against women is viewed in India.

The Criminal Law (Amendment) Act, 2013

  • The nation -wide outrage over the brutal gang rape in Delhi 2012, was the driving force behind the passing of the Criminal Law (Amendment) Act, 2013. It has been known all over as one of the most concrete steps taken by the Indian government to curb violence against women.
  • The Act recognizes the broad range of sexual crimes to which women may fall victim, and a number of ways in which gender based discrimination manifests itself. It also acknowledges that lesser crimes of bodily integrity often escalate to graver ones.
  • It seeks to treat cases as “rarest of the rare” for which courts can award capital punishment if they decide so. The Act clarifies and extends the offense of sexual assaults or rape as a result of abuse of position of trust. As per the Act, the police will also be penalized for failing to register FIRs.
  • The Act introduced unprecedented provisions in the Indian Penal Code which criminalises sexual voyeurism and stalking and amends legal provisions to protect the privacy of individuals, such as discontinuing the practice of examination of the sexual history of the victim of a sexual assault for evidence. With instances of threats to individual privacy on the rise in India, it was high time that the criminal law expands its scope to deal with offences which violate physical privacy.
  • The 2013 Amendment is a welcome step however the act was widely criticized for not following the recommendations of the Verma Committee that had been specifically constituted to observe and recommend changes in the present penal provisions.

Way ahead

  • The recent Chandigarh incident gives us an opportunity to broaden our narrative on sexual violence and it’s about time we start recognising the multitudes of infractions as a part of it. The reality is while rape is a heinous crime but it is not the only form of sexual violence women in India face. So-called “minor” sexual offences such as stalking, voyeurism and eve-teasing in effect deprive the women of their fundamental right to occupy public space without fear.
  • The acts by itself are not sufficient to redress and seek justice for violence against women. For this, the Government of India needs to make colossal investments in building necessary infrastructure to deal with the crimes supplemented by meaningful reforms in judiciary (building fast track women’s courts, more engagement of women lawyers, women doctors to examine victims) and modernisation of the police system across whole of India.

Question– It is not the magnimity of offence but rather the nature of offence which is concerning. Comment.

3.From plate to plough (The Indian Express) 

Synoptic line: It throws light on the issue that how Agriculture marketing system in India remains un-supportive to farmers. (GS paper III)

Overview

  • India is an agricultural country and one third population depends on the agricultural sector directly or indirectly. Agriculture remains as the main stray of the Indian economy since times immemorial. Indian agriculture contribution to the national gross domestic product (GDP) is about 25 per cent.
  • Marketing is as critical to better performance in agriculture as farming itself. Agricultural marketing system is an efficient way by which the farmers can dispose their surplus produce at a fair and reasonable price. Improvement in the condition of farmers and their agriculture depends to a large extent on the elaborate arrangements of agricultural marketing.
  • The futures market is one way to ensure that farmers’ planting and selling decisions are forward-looking. It can help smoothen the boom and bust problem in agri prices.

National Agriculture Market (NAM)

  • National Agriculture Market (NAM) is a pan-India electronic trading portal which networks the existing APMC mandis to create a unified national market for agricultural commodities. The NAM Portal provides a single window service for all APMC related information and services. This includes commodity arrivals and prices, buy and sell trade offers, provision to respond to trade offers, among other services.
  • Agriculture marketing is administered by the States as per their agri-marketing regulations, under which, the State is divided into several market areas, each of which is administered by a separate Agricultural Produce Marketing Committee (APMC) which imposes its own marketing regulation (including fees).
  • This fragmentation of markets, even within the State, hinders free flow of agri commodities from one market area to another and multiple handling of agri-produce and multiple levels of mandi charges ends up escalating the prices for the consumers without commensurate benefit to the farmer.
  • NAM addresses these challenges by creating a unified market through online trading platform, both, at State and National level and promotes uniformity, streamlining of procedures across the integrated markets, removes information asymmetry between buyers and sellers and promotes real time price discovery, based on actual demand and supply, promotes transparency in auction process, and access to a nationwide market for the farmer, with prices commensurate with quality of his produce and online payment and availability of better quality produce and at more reasonable prices to the consumer.

Problems with E-NAM and learning from other country

  • The e-NAM aims to create an all-India spot market by creating an electronic platform, however for transactions to take place across mandis and states; one has to do much more than installing simple software. It needs assaying, grading, sorting, storing, delivering and settling disputes with respect to each transaction. Despite the good concept of e-NAM, creation of an all-India spot market for farmers is still at least five years away, if not more.
  • There are two key problems with Indian agri-futures, firstly the agri-futures markets are often disrupted by sudden bans or suspensions by the government as many policy-makers have a deep mistrust in the functioning of these markets; and secondly, very few farmers or farmer producer organisations (FPOs) trade on futures, which in turn reinforces the mistrust of policymakers.
  • India ‘s agri-futures remained at low levels, forming only 2 per cent of 1.6 billion global agri- futures contracts during the triennium average ending (TE)-2016. China, which started in the early 1990s and by triennium average ending 2016, was the largest player in global agri-futures contracts with a whopping share of 69 per cent. China learnt from the US that a spot or wholesale market of sufficient size and efficiency has to be developed before establishing a vibrant futures market.
  • Apart from this, other takeaways from Chinese success in agri-futures are state participation in the futures markets through the State Trading Enterprises and there are no abrupt suspensions of commodities; and there is focus on choice of commodities, which are not very sensitive from the food security point of view.

Way ahead

  • The key lesson we can learn from China is to pick the commodities carefully, and deepen their markets first. Though SEBI has tried to come up with some indicative criteria in the choice of commodities to be developed for futures markets, but the basic distinction between feed and food commodities is missing. And it is here that the Chinese experience is relevant as they first tried to develop futures in commodities that are non-sensitive from the food security point of view.

Question– Throw light on the Agriculture marketing system in India. What reforms are needed to make it more farmer-centric?